Pondering Good and Evil: Relational Alignment and Relative Morality

I’m in a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign at the moment, and the players recently had an ethical debate about something that happened a couple of sessions ago. This debate wasn’t about Alignment but, when talking ethics in D&D, Alignment is impossible to avoid.

The concept of Alignment elicits some very powerful emotions among roleplayers. I am not immune to this. I have strong feelings about Good and Evil in particular, but my headcanon is largely incompatible with the way that Alignment is used in D&D itself.

D&D Alignment does double duty as a reflection of your personal morality as your position in a great eternal conflict between cosmic forces of unimaginable power. It has accomplished this serviceably well for decades, but I think that this splitting of focus can sometimes confuse gamemakers and players.

However, if we narrow down Alignment’s focus to just character morality, removing any link to a heavenly absolute Good or infernal absolute Evil, then it can become a lot more nuanced. What if individuals didn’t have a fixed Alignment, but one that varied according to how much they cared about other people? Would this make it more useful as a tool for analysing characters in other games, or more generally?

To examine this, let’s have a look at Sir Brad Starlight (pictured) and some other characters from the series Wander Over Yonder, then talk about another way we could think about Alignment.

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Welp, guess I’m not publishing that Alignment post now [UPDATED: Oh, yes I am]

Ethical priorities. Art from the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Players' Handbook, butchered by me.
Ethical priorities. Art from the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Players’ Handbook, butchered by me.
About an hour ago I put the finishing touches on my blog post about Alignment in Dungeons & Dragons. When I clicked ‘Publish’, the post disappeared. It didn’t appear on the blog, and it stopped appearing in my list of drafts. It’s not in the list of published posts, or trashed blog posts, or anywhere else on my site.

It’s just gone.

That’s obviously frustrating. I’d been working on it for months, especially now that I’m actually playing in a D&D 5th Edition campaign. It had examples, pictures, references to other sites and Alignment blog posts. It wasn’t perfect but I was proud enough to post it. I’ve still got the pictures (see one of them, right), but everything else is gone.

Hopefully I can recover it at some point, but it’s not looking likely. Maybe I’ll rewrite the thing. Or maybe it’ll never see the light of day. I don’t know yet.

I’m writing this partly to vent, and partly to check that publishing blog posts is still a thing I can do. If not, well, I guess you’ll never even see this post.

Update: Good news, I recovered the post! You can read it here.

With Great Power comes great enjoyment

Cover of With Great Power (Master Edition), art by M. P. O'Sullivan

With Great Power by Michael S. Miller is a superhero roleplaying game that emulates the melodramatic, four-colour style of the Silver Age of comics. It’s uncannily attuned to the tropes of that era, and what’s more it’s fantastic fun to play.

I wanted to play a staunch defender of the people, a larger-than-life, powerful, positive character and boy did I ever get that in the Glowing Guardian! With his allies, Little Young’un and the Armoured Arcanist, he defends New York City (because of course New York City) from the plots of supervillains like Zoltrak the Cursed and the Incandescent Inquisitor!

So how does the game itself encourage such incredible stories?

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Fate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: They played my game!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles colour print by Michael Walsh

Hey everyone! Someone played my game! And they recorded themselves doing it! And they had fun!

Remember when I wrote a one-shot Fate adventure featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Well Allen Holloway, who has a YouTube channel called Check For Traps, has organised and run a live-streamed version of that adventure with four other roleplaying YouTubers. I am unreasonably happy that this has happened. I didn’t know any of these people, but somehow they found my stuff and liked it enough to run a game with it! And they had fun!

I found out about this game after talking to one of the players about his TMNT Fate game on Google Plus, but I had no idea it was based on my work until I actually watched the video. In fact, this is the first time I’ve heard for sure that anyone has actually run anything that I made. To get to watch it on top of that is a treat!

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Will Cortex Prime light our darkest hour?

Optimus Prime displaying the Cortex logo matrix of leadership
It’s Optimus Cortex Prime, geddit?

The Kickstarter for Cortex Prime is currently live, and it’s doing rather well. It funded in 36 hours (I helped!), it has just passed its third stretch goal, and it still has 12 days to go.

Cortex Prime is the latest iteration of the Cortex roleplaying system and, more immediately, the successor system to Cortex Plus, which gave us games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Leverage, Firefly and my favourite Smallville. (I’ve blogged about Smallville a lot. Have a look.)

This seems like a good time to talk about my feelings for the new game. In short, I’m looking forward to it. My last Cortex Plus game, the X-Men drama Worthington Academy, wrapped up last year. I had no intention of running another one, but just before the Kickstarter launched I was starting to get the itch for a new Cortex Plus Drama campaign, and so Cortex Prime showed up at just the right time.

But what do I think about what I’ve seen so far?

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You better watch out: Festive monsters for your Christmas dungeon crawl

Season's Greetings by Jo Chen via DeviantArt

It’s December, my weekly Unknown Armies game has had its annual Christmas special, and I’ve been listening to a reading of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

As a result of one or more of these things, I’ve found myself thinking about a dungeon crawl that drops a band of adventurers in a wintry ice fortress and pits them against an evil Santa Claus and his Christmassy minions. Here are some monsters that might populate such a dungeon crawl, which you can use for a game of Dungeon World if you’re so inclined.

Enjoy…

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Good RPGs encourage good experiences—it doesn’t matter how!

Declaring that a game is “good” (or, worse, “bad”) is almost always a controversial prospect. In general, I prefer to say that I have liked or disliked a game rather than claim that it has an absolute or objective quality. “Good” is a subjective distinction, and opinion will vary from player to player.

That said, I feel pretty confident in defining what a good game is, as long as the definition itself leaves room for subjectivity.

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